Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Last Call


FRANKEN: I think we disagree on whether health care reform, the health care reform that we’re talking about in Congress now should pass. You said that the way we’re going will increase bankruptcies. I want to ask you, how many medical bankruptcies because of medical crises were there last year in Switzerland?

FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number in front of me, but I can find out and get back to you.

FRANKEN: I can tell you how many it was. It’s zero. Do you know how many medical bankruptcies there were last year in France?

FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number, but I can get back to you if I like.

FRANKEN: Yeah, the number is zero. Do you know how many were in Germany?

FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: From the trend of your questions, I’m assuming the number is zero. But I don’t know the precise number and would have to get back to you.

FRANKEN: Well, you’re very good. Very fast. The point is, I think we need to go in that direction, not the opposite direction. Thank you.

Night, folks.

Sore Losers

And as usual, the airheads at Fox and Friends get their facts wrong while crying over the mean ol' White House not giving them access.

If you're not going to bother to give a damn enough to get your facts right about Obama anyway, why should anyone care over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue enough to give a damn to invite you assclowns to the press events? You're just going make stuff up, so actually they're saving you guys the expense of having to show up.

You should be grateful.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Nope. Sorry man, Creed is still ass. Along with Coldplay, they pretty much define everything that was wrong with rock in the 00's.

Does The Man Not Understand?

If I didn't know better, I'd say that GOP Sen. David Vitter doesn't seem to think that Louisiana magistrate did anything wrong by denying a marriage license to a mixed-race couple based on race alone. Greg Sargent has more:
I’ve now gotten comment from Vitter’s office, and it won’t make his critics any happier. His spokesman tells me Vitter thinks “judges should follow the law.” But he didn’t directly comment on Bardwell or pass judgment on what he did, even though Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana have both called for the judge to resign or have his license revoked.

Vitter’s spokesman also seemed to suggest that asking for comment on Bardwell isn’t legit, and took a hard shot at blogger Mike Stark, who has been publicizing widely-circulated video of Vitter dodging questions about the judge. Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado emails me this:

“First, Sen. Vitter thinks that all judges should follow the law as written and not make it up as they go along. Second, it would be amazing for anyone to do a story based on this fringe, left-wing political hack’s blog — he’s been handcuffed and detained in the past over his guerrilla tactics.”

I asked DiGrado in a follow-up email whether Senator Vitter agrees with Jindal and Landrieu that Bardwell should be removed. Will update if I hear back.

Wouldn't hold your breath, Greg. Vitter's had multiple instances to comment on Bardwell's racist idiocy. Condemning it like other Louisiana politicians should be simple...but Vitter still refuses to say anything about it.

At what point do we start assuming Vitter doesn't see anything wrong with what Bardwell did, if not flat out defending Bardwell?

Epic FOX Rail, Bach-mail Fail

Bachmanniac and technology: two great tastes that equal fail as Politico's Mike Alllen notes.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sent a tweet this morning from her @michelebachmann

account saying: “If you're interested in receiving mobile updates from me, text MN6 to 467468 or visit and subscribe. Thanks so much!”

The homepage of her congressional site allows users to sign up for the “Bachmann Bulletin” by entering only a first name, last name and e-mail address. Then you get a confirmation message that says, “Thank you for registering.”

That system rang a bell for some Democrats, who recalled that opponents of health reform claimed that groups could enter names of other people — and even lists — to receive White House updates without the addressees’ permission.

A Democratic official said: “Bachmann is using official government resources in a way that allows groups to simply add individual e-mails … into her government-run database. Fox spent a lot of time on this story when it involved the White House. I wonder if they or anyone else will pay the same attention now that it is a Republican Member of Congress.”

Oh, but it gets worse for FOX News:
In August, this "controversy" was so important that Fox News' White House correspondent pressed Robert Gibbs on it during a White House briefing. Soon after, in the hopes of making Republicans and their network move on, the White House changed its email policy.

A Democratic official told Madden, "Given how obsessed they were to make a federal case out of this when it came to the White House, you would think that Fox 'News' would be asking all sorts of questions of Republicans about the same practice. But apparently not. Maybe there's a breaking story about how ACORN is planning a swine flu vaccine that will indoctrinate children so they will support a world currency that will undermine the dollar that they are covering. But more likely, the disparate treatment here is just further evidence that Fox 'News' is an arm of the Republican Party."

Now, when Democratic officials start sounding like me, you know FOX News is in real trouble in the White House.

As they should be.


Nancy Makes Her Move

Brian Beutler details Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan in the House to get a public option bill through.

At last count, she's still eight votes shy of the crucial 218 she needs to pass a robust public option plan, though key players seem to think she has momentum on her side. If she can't whip up those last eight votes she'll likely have to revert and move ahead with a more modest public option--one that negotiates rather than dictates reimbursement rates. That would disappoint reformers and progressives in her caucus. But she (and they) will be able to say she pulled out all the stops.

All of this is at the heart of what she's trying to accomplish more broadly. She's staking out the boldest, most progressive ground she can to give key provisions, like the public option, strong odds when it comes time to negotiate away the differences between the House bill and what will almost surely be a weaker Senate version.

And she's laying down a mark she hopes the Senate will follow, saying implicitly that the chamber that represents all voters equally supports a bold public option, and daring skeptics to do the bidding of the unpopular minority. That could put public option skeptics on the Democratic side of the Senate in an awkward position. (Just yesterday, one of the Senate's most conservative Democrats seemed to indicate that a public option might not be so bad, so long as states have the option of pulling out of the plan if they so choose.)

All of this comes with some risk, however small, that the strategy blows up in her face--either that she can't scrape together the minimum votes needed to pass a robust public option now, or that she can, but in a way that unites skeptics, who may feel strong-armed and refuse to play nice in negotiations. By and large, it seems she'll have the vast majority of the Democratic base, including its well armed pressure groups, on her side. And she, more than perhaps anybody in Washington, knows how to pass the bills she wants passed. Stay tuned.

Getting a weak bill through would have been much easier of course. But she's definitely pushing for a real reform measure here, and Democrats in the Senate will be hard-pressed not to go along.

It's a gamble, but a necessary one...and a very smart one at that.

Microcosm Of A Meltdown

The special election to replace GOP Rep John McHugh, who left the House to become Obama's Secretary of the Army, is turning into a complete disaster for the Republican Party.
The race is to replace Rep. John McHugh, a Republican who left his seat representing New York's 23rd district to become Secretary of the Army. The district has elected Republicans to Congress since 1993 and voted for George W. Bush twice--although Obama took it in 2008--so it might seem like an easy keep. Not so. Conservative voters are bitterly divided between Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. That makes the race different from the New Jersey campaign, in which potential spoiler Chris Daggett, who is expected to draw votes from both his Democratic and Republican opponents, is running a centrist campaign that repudiates both major parties' performance in the state.

What's on the line in NY-23? A poll released Thursday showed Democrat Bill Owens with a slight lead in the race, with Scozzafava and Hoffman favored by 29 percent and 23 percent of voters, respectively. Predictions of 2010 losses aside, an Owens victory would give Democrats one more vote in the House of Representatives for the time being.

And regardless of whether Scozzafava keeps Hoffman from being a spoiler, the campaign has already bared the divisions in the Republican Party over its direction. An assemblywoman in the state legislature, Scozzafava is pro-gay marriage and pro-choice. She got a big boost last week when former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich endorsed her (other endorsers include, um, the founder of Daily Kos), which didn't please conservative bloggers; Red State's Erick Erickson declared Gingrich's endorsement the end of his 2012 presidential chances (the post has disappeared, but here's a cached version).

Hoffman, meanwhile, has gotten support from former House leader Dick Armey, former senator Fred Thompson, and others. Their main reason for supporting him seems to be . . . well, that he isn't Dede Scozzafava. But his platform is reliably conservative: anti-abortion, in favor of traditional marriage, pro-gun, and anti-bailout.

The race gets stranger and stranger every day. Last night, Scozzafava's camp apparently called the police on a Weekly Standard reporter who came to a campaign event. The two camps differ over what happened at the event, but the fierce sniping in the conservative blogosphere is a troubling sign of the deeper disagreements roiling conservatives as they try to regroup from the 2006 and 2008 elections.

If Scozzafava pulls out a surprise win, it will suggest that Republicans can profit at the polls if they veer left on social issues. If, on the other hand, the poll numbers hold and Owens defeats both Hoffman and Scozzafava, it will only encourage more and fiercer internecine squabbles. Without a win, it will be unclear whether moderation or ideology is more electorally potent, and with bitter divisions among leading Republicans, it won't be clear what's most philosophically sound, either. Democrats, meanwhile, may take pleasure and an extra seat from the fight, but won't have really done much to proven they've got staying power—only that they got lucky. These are the questions that will play a major role in 2010 and 2012—as opposed to, say, Chris Christie's weight.

Lucky? No. I fully expect the same scenario to be repeated into 2010 and again in 2012. The Teabaggers are going to rip the GOP to shreds. Yes, there will be races where the Dems will not be able to profit from the turmoil, but in a blood red district like this where a Democrat has never won, Bill Owens may make history...and that's only going to ramp up the civil war inside the GOP.

The Republicans are self-destructing. We're starting to see the end game of a five year slide here, and it's only going to get worse.

Next Time The Cops Pull Me Over, I'm Blaming The Higgs Boson Particle

Via LG&M, it seems much like Kaiser Soze, the Higgs boson doesn't want to be found, and it will do whatever it takes to stop the Large Hadron Collider from finding it, according to a couple of scientists.
At first sight, this theory fits comfortably into the crackpot tradition linking the start-up of the LHC with terrible disasters. The best known is that the £3 billion particle accelerator might trigger a black hole capable of swallowing the Earth when it gets going. Scientists enjoy laughing at this one.

This time, however, their ridicule has been rather muted — because the time travel idea has come from two distinguished physicists who have backed it with rigorous mathematics.

What Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, are suggesting is that the Higgs boson, the particle that physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be “abhorrent to nature”.

What does that mean? According to Nielsen, it means that the creation of the boson at some point in the future would then ripple backwards through time to put a stop to whatever it was that had created it in the first place.

This, says Nielsen, could explain why the LHC has been hit by mishaps ranging from an explosion during construction to a second big bang that followed its start-up. Whether the recent arrest of a leading physicist for alleged links with Al-Qaeda also counts is uncertain.

Nielsen’s idea has been likened to that of a man travelling back through time and killing his own grandfather. “Our theory suggests that any machine trying to make the Higgs shall have bad luck,” he said.

“It is based on mathematics, but you could explain it by saying that God rather hates Higgs particles and attempts to avoid them.”

The math is rather fascinating. Basically the theory says that the very act of creating a Higgs boson so screws up the universe that the universe simply self-corrects and goes back in time to prevent the Higgs boson from ever being created in the first place, thus when the Large Hadron Collider says "OK, let's DO THIS" the act of trying to create the Higgs boson breaks the LHC.

No, really. If we ever found a Higgs boson, it would be bad, apparently. Super bad. We're trying to run a microwave with a piece of tinfoil in the circuit breaker box, and poof. It's that clever.

The Higgs boson. Responsible for everything unexplainably bad in the universe?

Too Much Regulation, Really?

At some point,you just have to point and laugh at these clowns.
Banking expert Bert Ely sees things differently:

Had Glass-Steagall never been enacted, had it been repealed much earlier than 1999 … the Big Five investment banking firms … might not have become as focused as they did on buying, securitizing, and trading subprime, Alt-A, and option-ARM mortgages. While the large commercial banking companies also engaged in mortgage securitization and originating nonprime mortgages, they did not get as deeply involved in those activities as did the investment banks. Arguably, then, had the separate, distinct investment-banking industry been melded into mainstream commercial banking years ago, today’s mortgage and financial crisis would not be as severe as it is, or may not have occurred at all.


I mean my opinion of Pethokoukis is slightly above that of telemarketers on a Sunday during NFL season, but he's really wanting to front the opinion that the problem was that mean old Congress didn't let the greedy banks to the investment and derivative money trough fast enough? They would have actually been less greedy?

Bullshit. Seriously. Then how do you explain their behavior now?

Still The Most Wrong Pundit In America

Our Jonah Goldberg.
One of the most macabre images I've ever heard described came in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami in 2004. Before the tidal wave crashed on shore, beachgoers stood around and idly gaped as the water drastically receded. Bewildered, they didn't realize they were looking at the prelude to a calamity.

The Democratic party looks more and more like those beachgoers every day, watching popular support recede, oblivious to the Perot tsunami coming our way.

In 1992, the incumbent president, George H. W. Bush, was a disappointment to his party's base and a pariah to the Democrats. Government seemed to have lost its grip. The deficit became a massive issue, a symbol of out-of-control government. The hangover of Cold War sacrifices, the S&L bailout, runaway crime, huge trade deficits, the long-term trend of manufacturing decline, and, of course, the recession contributed to the sense that America desperately needed to get its house in order.

Ross Perot, a quirky Texas billionaire, tapped into that anxiety perfectly. Western, pro-business, no-nonsense, pro-choice and pro-gun, culturally conservative but with little interest in culture-war issues, he managed to thread the needle between both parties. He also benefited enormously from the fact that his independent bid for the presidency was seen by the press as an indictment of both the incumbent Republican and the "Reagan deficits" that Democrats and the media had been denouncing for years. At one point, Perot led in the polls, and if he hadn't dropped out and then rejoined (or had he not been so Yosemite Sam-goofy), he might have done even better than his historic 19 percent of the popular vote.

It's still debated whether Perot cost Bush the election. But even if Clinton would have won regardless, Perot's candidacy had an underappreciated significance. He forced Clinton to double-down on his "New Democrat" appeals. Clinton had already fashioned himself as a "different kind of Democrat" who would "end welfare as we know it." But the Perotista revolt of "raging moderates" and "angry centrists" reinforced Clinton's rhetorical commitments and the voters' expectations.

No you meathead, Perot most certainly cost Bush the election and gave it to Clinton. Perot neatly destroyed the Reaganite coalition and allowed Clinton a pretty easy victory, despite our HOOAH asskicking in Iraq in 1990.

But what wrecked Bush was, well, Bush. "No new taxes" certainly hurt but the realization that Reaganomics was a flop really hurt him. What in turn hurt Clinton was failure to pass health care in 1993. Nice to see Jonah gloss over Clinton's first two years and go straight to Triangulatin' Action Clinton.

But glossing over what history he doesn't agree with it par for Jonah's course there, just like the fact that Americans still hate Republicans now, and that the Peronistas hate the Republicans even more than they hate the Dems.

It's not the Dems are going to get wiped, but any semblance of moderation from the remaining GOP candidates.

You Willing To Bet On That?

I'm not.
The biggest problem that banks have faced was the fall in the housing market, and this seems to have bottomed, Rochdale Securities banking analyst Richard Bove told CNBC.

"I really believe that the industry has bottomed, that we're not going to see further crashes in home prices or in home sales," Bove told "Squawk Box."

Analysts are no longer happy with banks breaking earnings and revenue forecasts and are now looking at early stage delinquencies, he said. If that figure improves, then the stocks of the banks which beat earnings estimates are likely to rise, he added.

"It's all on expectation on what future numbers will be and for that people are going to keep an eye on these early stage delinquencies," Bove said.

Mortgage delinquency numbers improving? Where the hell are you getting that from?

Nope, home prices still have a ways to go, and that direction is down, down, down. But welcome to the Future Stupidity file!

H1N1 4U

Swine Flu's out there, folks. Me, I got lucky and caught the bloody thing last spring. But the CDC is damn worried about this bug, and you should be as well.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have confirmed what public health officials have been saying for some time. The Swine Flu, pandemic H1N1, is unusually deadly for young people in the United States.

In a press briefing from the CDC on October 20, 2009, Dr. Ann Schuchat revealed the data from September 1 through October 10. With 27 states reporting a total of 4,958 hospitalizations related to Swine Flu, 53% of the patients were under age 24 and 92% were under age 65. With seasonal flu, 60% of the hospitalizations are in patients over the age of 65.

In other words, this one's putting a lot of young people in the hospital and worse.
28 states have reported a total of 292 laboratory confirmed deaths related to pandemic H1N1. 24% of the deaths are in young people under the age of 24. 88% of the deaths are in patients under age 65. This is in contrast to the deaths from seasonal flu, where 90% of the deaths are in patients age 65 and older.

When asked about underlying conditions adding to the risks from Swine Flu, Dr. Schuchat said “Well, pregnancy, as we've been seeing is disproportionately represented. Completely healthy women are coming down with horrible, horrible illnesses. “ She also mentioned that children with pre-exisitng neurological conditions such as muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy are being seen with complications from Swine Flu. Children with asthma, even well controlled asthma, are also at greater risk of complications."

Needless to say, be careful out there this fall, especially anyone with kids or pregnant women.

Time For Plan E, Gentlemen

From Publius at Obsidian Wings:
House Democrats are warming to renaming the public option "Medicare Part E." The Hill reports:

Say hello to “Medicare Part E” — as in, “Medicare for Everyone.”

House Democrats are looking at re-branding the public health insurance option as Medicare, an established government healthcare program that is better known than the public option.

Frankly, this should have happened a long time ago. But no time like the present.

Assuming this label catches on, I'm anxious to hear how GOP legislators will distinguish it from the "real" Medicare. "No, no, no. Medicare is much different. We love Medicare. The public option, however, is a threat. It will lead to a government-run, single-payer, socialized coverage system. That's much different than what Medicare does."

In all seriousness, the most valid reason not to call it "Medicare" is that the public option is far less socialized. Even under the most liberal bills, the public option would only be available to a fraction of the public, and even then would have other restrictions such as artificial floors on reimbursement rates, etc.

In short, Medicare is much more liberal than the public option. I doubt, though, that the GOP will adopt this as their main talking point. Instead, we may see a comeback tour for "Medicare will bankrupt us all."

Oh yes, a thousand times yes. Please have the GOP attack Medicare as a result of this. This should have been done long ago and quite possibly if it had we would have a plan signed into law by now.

On the other hand, the GOP has managed to largely discredit itself anyway given their tactics. Not sure this is needed as much as a final push from the White House, but I don't see it hurting, especially when the Winger Auxiliary is resorting to tactics like this to scare seniors.

[UPDATE 9:50 AM] And yet VA Dem Creigh Deeds is in fact now running on opting out of the public option if elected as Governor in November.

Bye, Creigh. Was nice knowing you.

Just Dunnae Get It, Lad

Confused Jake Tapper is confused, evidenced by yesterday's daily White House briefing as he tries to get answers about why the White House is so darn mean to FOX News.
Tapper: But that’s a pretty sweeping declaration that they are “not a news organization.” How are they any different from, say –

Gibbs: ABC -

Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?

Gibbs: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o’clock tonight. Or 5 o’clock this afternoon.

Tapper: I’m not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I’m talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a “news organization” -- why is that appropriate for the White House to say?

Gibbs: That’s our opinion.

Oh, Jakey Jake Jakester. Really?
How is Fox News different from ABC? Fox News recently purchased a full-page ad in the Washington Post and lied about its TV news competitors, including ABC News.

Fox News claimed that the other cable and network news outlets had "miss[ed]" the Sept. 12, anti-Obama rally in Washington, D.C., when in fact TV news orgs, like ABC, covered the protest extensively. So, Fox News publicly smeared Tapper's employer, but Tapper can't figure out how Fox News is different from ABC.

I swear to God that Village journalism is exactly like friggin' high school. Jake wants to be a cool kid, so he's defending the FOX News clique cause picking on Obama is badass.

Somehow I'm thinking we've not gone anywhere from 1996. Song remains the same.

Robbing Paul Volker To Pay Peter

Presidential economic adviser Paul Volker is the guy Obama should be listening to when it comes to dealing with Too Big To Fail, but alas, the President seems to think Helicopter Ben and Timmy can still handle the problem as the NY Times reports. Volker's not giving up however.
He wants the nation’s banks to be prohibited from owning and trading risky securities, the very practice that got the biggest ones into deep trouble in 2008. And the administration is saying no, it will not separate commercial banking from investment operations.

“I am not pounding the desk all the time, but I am making my point,” Mr. Volcker said in one of his infrequent on-the-record interviews. “I have talked to some senators who asked me to talk to them, and if people want to talk to me, I talk to them. But I am not going around knocking on doors.”

Still, he does head the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which makes him the administration’s most prominent outside economic adviser. As Fed chairman from 1979 to 1987, he helped the country weather more than one crisis. And in the campaign last year, he appeared occasionally with Mr. Obama, including a town hall meeting in Florida last fall. His towering presence (he is 6-foot-8) offered reassurance that the candidate’s economic policies, in the midst of a crisis, were trustworthy.

More subtly, Mr. Obama has in Mr. Volcker an adviser perceived as standing apart from Wall Street, and critical of its ways, some administration officials say, while Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, and Lawrence H. Summers, chief of the National Economic Council, are seen, rightly or wrongly, as more sympathetic to the concerns of investment bankers.

For all these reasons, Mr. Volcker’s approach to financial regulation cannot be just brushed off — and Mr. Goolsbee, speaking for the administration, is careful not to do so. “We have discussed these issues with Paul Volcker extensively,” he said.

Mr. Volcker’s proposal would roll back the nation’s commercial banks to an earlier era, when they were restricted to commercial banking and prohibited from engaging in risky Wall Street activities.

The Obama team, in contrast, would let the giants survive, but would regulate them extensively, so they could not get themselves and the nation into trouble again. While the administration’s proposal languishes, giants like Goldman Sachs have re-engaged in old trading practices, once again earning big profits and planning big bonuses.
More regulation by itself is not the answer. The correct regulation is, and that regulation needed is what Volker keeps suggesting: rolling back Gramm-Leach-Bliley and separating banks from investment firms. I've been saying this for many months now.

Until Obama bites the bullet on this, banks will continue to be a fundamental threat to our nation's economy, period.

Barry Ritholz also believes that Volker needs to be listened to at The Big Picture.
The sooner team O starts listening to Tall Paul, the better off they — and the country — will be . . .
At Baseline Scenario, Simon Johnson is hopeful that Volker's voice, along with Bank of England's Mervyn King represents the first crack in the dam.
Remember and repeat this Mervyn King line: ”Anyone who proposed giving government guarantees to retail depositors and other creditors, and then suggested that such funding could be used to finance highly risky and speculative activities, would be thought rather unworldly. But that is where we now are.”
But Yves Smith at naked capitalism is far more pessimistic.
Put it simply, I have yet to see anything even remotely approaching a realistic discussion of how to deal with too big too fail firms, and we have been at this for months. My knowledge of the industry is not fully current, but even so, the difficulties are far greater than I have seen acknowledged anywhere. That pretty much guarantees none of the proposals are serious, and nothing will be done on this front.

That further implies the system will have to break down catastrophically before anything effective can be done. I really hope I am wrong on this one.

All three have good point that are worth digesting this morning. For the record I think all three are right: Volker's plan is certainly better, but it will take another meltdown to convince the world that something needs to be done.

That particular meltdown will be on Obama's head should it happen.


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